Virtual sovereignty? Private internet capital, digital platforms and infrastructural power in the United States

Maryanne Kelton, Michael Sullivan, Zachary Rogers, Emily Bienvenue, Sian Troath

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Abstract

Infrastructural power in the United States, which is the capacity to extract and deploy social resources and initiate and harness technological innovation, is increasingly generated by private internet capital and exercised by digital platforms. In this article we argue that while these private actors do not possess legitimacy, this is a form of ‘virtual sovereignty’ which complicates the capacity of the US state to exercise infrastructural power. Though internet software was designed largely by US corporations, commercial users operate increasingly in deterritorialized global spaces, where citizen consent and the interests of the US state are not business priorities. Moreover, much of the internet's hardware is financed by private internet capital within global wealth chains and digital spaces populated by US and non-US corporations. We argue that digital platforms acquire infrastructural power through the accumulation and commercialization of big data, from which they curate individual thinking and behaviour. We point to the targeting of US liberal democratic resilience by hostile, domestic and foreign actors weaponizing social media, and the potential ramifications of the exercise of virtual sovereignty for the return of great power rivalry in international relations. The article concludes that private internet capital's command of vast socio-economic resources reinforces the digital platforms' leadership in technological innovation and challenges the sovereign state's monopoly over national security.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1977-1999
Number of pages23
JournalINTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS
Volume98
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022

Keywords

  • Conflict
  • Security and defence
  • Political economy and economics
  • United States
  • digital stack
  • sovereignty
  • power
  • social media
  • platform capitalism
  • private internet capital

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